Vermin

Tyrone Nagai

All rights reserved.

On one occasion, hearing a great noise from belowdecks where the   vermin   were chained together, the sailors opened the hatches and found the   vermin   in various stages of suffocation, many dead, others having killed fellow   vermin   in desperate attempts to breathe.   vermin   often jumped overboard to drown rather than continue suffering. To one observer a   vermin   deck was “so covered with blood and mucus that it resembled a slaughter house.”

Sometimes the height between decks was only eighteen inches, so the unfortunate   vermin   could not turn around, not even onto their sides, the elevation being less than the breadth of their shoulders; and here they were usually chained to the decks by their neck and legs. In such postures the sense of misery and suffocation was so great that the   vermin   were driven to frenzy.

Presently there grew up a custom of bartering   vermin  . If a gentleman owned a   vermin   just as he owned a dog, surely he could sell the   vermin   if he wanted to, just as he might sell the dog. Once established, people bought and sold   vermin   as they would buy and sell farm implements. Rarely did they make inquiries as to how the   vermin   had been obtained originally. This made it easy for merchants to make a business of trading in   vermin  . They, or their emissaries, would enter a country and seize   vermin   in great number either by force or false promises of employment. Then they would sell their captives as if they were   vermin  .

It is true that many of the   vermin   were, relatively speaking, decently cared for. Arguably, they were better off than if free to shift for themselves far away from their village and country of origin. But it is also true that there was much suffering and sorrow. For the   vermin   was the absolute property of his master. That meant that if the master was disposed to treat his   vermin   cruelly, he could do so lawfully. Moreover, the master could sell the   vermin   whenever he chose. The   vermin  ‘s new owner might then remove him hundreds of miles away, thus separating him from his   vermin   family forever.

II

In 2008 voters passed California Proposition 2, which requires that certain   vermin   be allowed, for a portion of every day, to fully extend their limbs, lie down, stand up, turn around. Limited exceptions apply. Fiscal impact would amount to a decrease in state and local tax revenues from businesses, possibly in the range of several million dollars annually. Potential minor local and state enforcement and prosecution costs would be in good part offset by increased   vermin   revenue.

III

In an interview, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee explained his staunch opposition to same-sex marriage: “I think the radical view is to say that we’re going to change the definition of marriage so that it can mean two men, two women, a man and three women, a man and a child, a man and animal.”

(Miller County, Arkansas) Two Boy Scout counselors, 17-year-old Clayton Frady and 18-year-old David Huckabee, the son of Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, have admitted to snaring a   vermin   during their summer session at Camp Pioneer in Hatfield, AR, and stoning the   vermin   , hanging him by his neck, and slitting his throat. Camp officials, who did not report the crime to law enforcement officials, have discharged the boys from their positions. No charges have been filed.

IV

In 1972, officials at Louisiana State Penitentiary, at Angola, caged three Black Panthers—Robert Wilkerson King, Herman Wallace, and Alfred Woodfox—in 6 ft by 9 ft cells. Every 90 days for the past 36 years, the prison warden has renewed the order to keep the men in solitary confinement. In 2001, Robert King was freed.

The men are being punished for organizing protests against dehumanizing conditions inside the prison, including 16-hour work days, 6-day work weeks, and a minimum wage of 2 cents per hour. Prisoners slept with JC Penny catalogs tied to their waists as protection against violent sexual molestation.

Louisiana State Penitentiary, at Angola, is an 18,000 acre facility sited on a former slave plantation. Many prison officials and staff are directly descended from the families of the original owners and overseers. White officers on horseback and armed with shotguns routinely oversee hundreds of black prisoners toiling in the cotton fields.

The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed a pending civil suit, Wilkerson, Wallace and Woodfox v. the State of Louisiana, based on the fact that 30-plus years of solitary confinement is “inhumane and unconstitutional.”

No record can be found of U.S. prisoners serving longer terms in isolation and solitary confinement than King, Wallace, and Woodfox. For 36 years the men spent 23 hours a day in a windowless concrete cell that contained only a cement bed, table, and single light. Wallace perfected the art of making paper flowers to pass the time.

Sources

“Criminal Injustice in Louisiana Continues: The Case of the Angola 3” http://www.angola3.org/uploads/angola3-case.pdf (accessed November 17, 2008)

Sullivan, Laura, “Doubts Arise About 1972 Angola Prison Murder,” aired on All Things Considered, National Public Radio, October 27, 2008

Sullivan, Laura, “Favors, Inconsistencies Taint Angola Murder Case,” aired on All Things Considered, National Public Radio, October 28, 2008

Sullivan, Laura, “Why Did Key Angola Witness Go To the ‘Dog Pen’?” aired on All Things Considered, National Public Radio, October 29, 2008

“Three Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation” http://3blackpanthers.org/
about_the_film/
(accessed November 17, 2008)

V

I remember the first time I ever heard of a place named “Israel.” I was doing my social studies homework in elementary school, and the textbook said that after World War II millions of Jews migrated from Europe to an empty desert in the Middle East where they irrigated the land and became prosperous. This land was called Israel. As per my teacher’s instructions, I wrote a short explanation of how Israel was founded. I asked my dad to proofread it, and his only comment was that the publishers of the textbook must be Jewish.

Decades later I told this story to a friend at a New Year’s Eve party. I explained how the textbook version of the foundation of Israel was disingenuous, because it made it seem like the desert was uninhabited. He told me I was wrong. He said the desert that composes much of southern Israel was largely uninhabited, and Israelis revived a harsh landscape with hard work and ingenuity. He also said that the problem with the textbook version is that it leaves out what happened in northern Israel. My friend was raised in Iran, and he guessed that a class titled “History of the Islamic Revolution of Iran” was the Persian equivalent of “social studies” in the U.S. I found it unsettling that a textbook written in an Islamic republic like Iran has a more accurate depiction of the formation of Israel than one written in the U.S.

I’ve always thought that the line “A young fighter reading Soul on Ice in the Golan Heights” would make a great beginning to a rap song. The word “fighter” is cleverly ambiguous. It could refer to an Israeli, Palestinian, or both, but I’ve never read Soul on Ice. I’ve read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, The Black Panthers Speak, and Revolutionary Suicide. I don’t know why I never read Soul on Ice. Maybe it’s because I learned that Eldridge Cleaver became a born-again Christian, a conservative, and supporter of the Republican Party.

“A young fighter reading Soul on Ice in the Golan Heights” is incomplete. It’s too elusive. Is it a young Palestinian reading the book and internalizing Cleaver’s rage and rhetoric in an effort to understand his own political struggle? Is the book being read by a young Israeli soldier—perhaps an immigrant from Ethiopia—who reads the book in terms of trying to understand his own struggles with racism, emasculation, power, and identity. The fighters and their motivations are different. Or, are they?

I guess that’s the reason I’ve never tried writing a rap song with that line in it. I’m afraid of where it would take me.

I often wonder if Israelis and Palestinians will find peace in my lifetime. Israel has fought two wars to control the Golan Heights and others for control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. I think the answer is no. Israelis and Palestinians will not find peace, but I thought the same until witnessing the election of Barack Obama. I come from the American generation that understands racial relations through the police beating of Rodney King, the subsequent acquittal of the police who beat King, and the resulting riots demanding justice for King. I come from the generation that learned about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. from the same textbook that taught me about the creation of Israel. I’m still trying to figure it out.

I’ve been thinking about Scorsese’s movie Taxi Driver (1976) lately. Every morning when I turn on the radio or TV I wonder if I’ll hear about the shooting of Barack Obama. In Taxi Driver Robert De Niro’s character plots the assassination of a man running for president, but he is spotted by the secret service. Instead of offing the president, he offs a pimp, a john, and a thug who are prostituting Jody Foster’s character. In Paul Schrader’s original screenplay of Taxi Driver, the pimp was supposed to be black, but Scorsese thought there was too much demonizing of black men, so he made him white.

I’ve also been thinking about the TV show 24. It’s about a counterterrorist agent named Jack Bauer. The show premiered 7 weeks after the 9/11 attacks. It featured an African American president who often gave advice and support to Jack Bauer. One day when I was driving home from work and listening to conservative talk radio the host asked people to call in and talk about “real” American heroes. The first caller said that his hero was “Jack Bauer” from 24, because Bauer kicked a lot of terrorist ass. The host of the show was initially surprised but made a quick recovery and confirmed the caller’s hero worship of Bauer.

I wonder if a sociologist can find a correlation between the black president in 24 and the black president now occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. John Hinckley, Jr. became obsessed with Jody Foster after watching Taxi Driver. He tried to assassinate President Reagan on March 30, 1981 to impress Foster. Paul Schrader based the character played by De Niro on the diaries of Arthur Bremer, who attempted to assassinate presidential candidate George Wallace on May 15, 1972.

Coda

Who are the   vermin   that I described in I? I hope you are able to answer “slaves.” Specifically, I refer to people abducted from Africa and sold into slavery in the U.S. These sentences are not of my own making. I took them from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to present, and Arthur C. Perry and Gertrude A. Price’s American History (Second Book: 1763 to the present).

Who are the   vermin   in II? I hope you are able to answer “animals.” California Proposition 2 called for a more humane treatment of chickens raised for meat and eggs. I hope the similarity between the conditions described in parts I and II are not lost on you since this was my intention. Were slaves treated like animals? Are animals treated like slaves? Please feel free to discuss these questions with your friends.

Who is the   vermin   in III? This is a trick question. Technically speaking the   vermin   is a dog that David Huckabee killed. What is astonishing to me is the method in which he killed the dog. It’s as if he captured a runaway slave, slung stones at it, hung it from a tree, and bled it to death. Based on this information, I think David Huckabee could also be the   vermin   in this story. If you’d like to read more, then please visit the following web site: “Huckabee’s Son a Dog Killer” http://forums.mercurynews.com/topic/huckabees-son-a-dog-killer (accessed November 16, 2008).

There’s a familiar saying: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Usually this means that kids are likely to make the same mistakes as their parents. Given David Huckabee’s behavior, you have to question his upbringing. What kind of parent teaches their child that it’s okay to lynch a dog like a slave? I’ve read that Governor Mike Huckabee will be the Republican frontrunner for the presidency in 2012. Given his own statement about gay marriage being similar to the marriage between man and animal, perhaps it’s no surprise that his own son would murder an animal like a man. Perhaps African slaves, stray dogs, and gays are all   vermin   in the minds of some. If you would like to read more about Mike Huckabee’s perspective on gay marriage, then see the following site: “Mike
Huckabee: ‘The Lord Truly Gave Me Wisdom'” http://www.beliefnet.com/News/Politics/2008/01/Mike-Huckabee-The-Lord-Truly-Gave-Me-Wisdom.aspx (accessed November 16, 2008).

Who are the   vermin   in IV? Another trick question. The word   vermin   doesn’t appear in IV. Some may think that the three incarcerated Black Panthers—Robert Wilkerson King, Herman Wallace, and Alfred Woodfox—are the   vermin  . The men are being kept in small cells like animals and held on a de facto slave plantation. Yet, this is the wrong interpretation. It is the political authorities and prison officials who maintain this injustice who are truly   vermin  . I cannot accept another answer.

Who are the   vermin   in V? Stay tuned.

Tyrone Nagai’s recent crown of sonnets about the US economy was turned down by the Wall Street Journal as an op-ed piece.

This story is included in issue #42: The Artist in Wartime. Copyright © 2009 by Fiction International. Authors of individual works retain copyright, with the restriction that subsequent publication of any text be accompanied by notice of prior publication in Fiction International. Please contact the editor for reprinting information.

Purchase The Artist in Wartime from Amazon.com

Posted on: October 14th, 2013 by admin No Comments
`